Theory: King Pyrrhus Was a Puppet of Ptolemy II

Sep 2019
68
Vergina
Theory: King Pyrrhus Was a Puppet of Ptolemy II

Want to get some opinions on this. The idea was first proposed in a 1950's Italian work Pirro by Giuseppe Nenci. Nenci believed that Pyrrhus fought the Pyrrhic War on behalf of Ptolemaic Egypt. By Nenci's theory Ptolemy II's main goal was to expand his influence in the Western Mediterranean and was using Pyrrhus as a proxy. Pyrrhus allied with Tarentum, gaining control over its fleet, and then wanted to use it to help conquer Sicily Ptolemy's main goal. Pyrrhus offered peace to Rome immediately, as his master Ptolemy had no interest in fighting them, and he hoped to move onto Sicily as quickly as possible. The Romans by refusing to come to an agreement derailed Pyrrhus and Ptolemy's plans. When Pyrrhus was defeated in 275, Ptolemy abandoned the project and attempted to improve relations with Rome instead hence the friendship ambassador sent in 273.

N.G.L.Hammond adds to Nenci's argument in an 1988 article entitled "Which Ptolemy Gave Troops to and Stood as Protector of Pyrhhus' Kingdom?" Hammond's article focuses on a passage in Justin (17.2) that mentions Pyrrhus receiving the 5,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry and 50 elephants from a Ptolemy. Most authors say the reinforcements came from Ptolemy Keraunos King of Macedonia but Hammond convincingly points out that Keraunos was in no position to give this many men away. Thus Hammond concludes they likely came from Ptolemy II himself. It should also be noted that Pyrrhus was very close to the Ptolemaic court having spent time at there in exile, previously been married to Ptolemy II's half sister and even naming his eldest son Ptolemy.

Thoughts?

Pyrrhus is regularly criticized as being an erratic strategist who wanted to conquer everything in sight. If this theory is true it means Pyrrhus needs to be reassessed as his objectives were far more limited and realistic.
 
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Oct 2018
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It's an interesting idea, but I'm pretty skeptical for several reasons.

On Pyrrhus' marital relationship with the Ptolemies: Yes, between 301 and 297 Pyrrhus was a hostage at the court of Ptolemy I, and they evidently established an alliance. Pyrrhus married Ptolemy I's step-daughter, and Ptolemy then provided him with the forces to re-take Epirus, using him as a power-play against Cassander. But it does not necessarily follow that this alliance had so much longevity that it influenced events in the 270s. The alliances of the Successor Period strike me as being pretty flimsy. They changed as new opportunities presented themselves. Take for example Pyrrhus' relationship with Demetrius the Besieger. Pyrrhus served under him at Ipsus, but less than ten years later they're enemies at war.

On Ptolemy Keraunos vs Ptolemy II: This is certainly an intriguing idea, and I sympathize with it. But a possible alternative is that Ptolemy Keraunos was willing to sacrifice some troops so long as Pyrrhus did go overseas. As in, getting him to go overseas could have appeared a worthy investment. Keraunos didn't necessarily know, for example, that the Gauls were about to descend on Macedon. Indeed, from what I remember he appears to have been quite unprepared for the Gallic invasion when it happened. He could have felt fairly comfortable. He had inherited the army of Seleucus and presumably what remained of the army of Lysimachus. Antigonus Gonatas would have appeared less of a threat than he had been when Demetrius and his invasion force still existed. But Pyrrhus would certainly have appeared a threat. He had already intervened in or invaded Macedon three times, partitioning Macedon with Lysimachus on the third occasion. Lysimachus later drove him out, but he thus had a claim to Macedon. He had doubled the size of his kingdom and had intervened in affairs in Greece proper. He already had a reputation for valour (having defeated Pantauchus in one-on-one combat), probably also for his military writings, and he had used his reputation to defeat Demetrius, provoking his army to defect without a battle. Later in 274, after Gonatas refused Pyrrhus' request for reinforcements, Pyrrhus invaded Macedon again and seized most of the kingdom. Again, he used his reputation to provoke defections. So, for Keraunos, if we do identify this Ptolemy with Keraunos, he faced two options: a) provide some military units to Pyrrhus, and thus get this likely-trouble-maker out of his geographical vicinity while he worked on consolidating his kingdom, and thereby also foster a powerful ally, or b) refuse and possibly face Pyrrhus' wrath, as would later happen to Gonatas.

It should also be noted that something appears to be wrong with Justin's figures. Plutarch (Pyrrhus 15.1), Orosius (4.1.6) and Zonaras (8.2) attest that Pyrrhus went to Italy with twenty elephants, not fifty, and Plutarch claims that the cavalry that Pyrrhus brought numbered only 3000.

The statement of Justin may also be a bit confused in another respect. He states that Pyrrhus, in return for the military units, married Ptolemy's daughter. Whether we are talking about Ptolemy II or Keraunos, the statement is not in itself implausible, since Pyrrhus did have multiple wives at the same time (Agathocles' daughter Lanassa divorced Pyrrhus because she was irritated by the fact that he also had barbarian wives; specifically Bircenna, the daughter of an Illyrian king, and also the daughter of a Paeonian king). But I wonder whether he has confused the Ptolemy that he's thinking of with Ptolemy I, whose step-daughter Pyrrhus had indeed married, albeit in the context of a different military expedition, Pyrrhus' retaking of the throne of Epirus.

Justin's statement also doesn't accord particularly well with the theory in the way that it presents the alliance (17.2): 'On going to assist the Tarentines, therefore, against the Romans, he desired of Antigonus the loan of vessels to transport his army into Italy; of Antiochus, who was better provided with wealth than with men, a sum of money; and of Ptolemy, some troops of Macedonian soldiers. Ptolemy, who had no excuse for holding back for want of forces, supplied him with five thousand infantry, four thousand cavalry, and fifty elephants, but for not more than two years’ service. In return for this favour, Pyrrhus, after marrying the daughter of Ptolemy, appointed him guardian of his kingdom in his absence; lest, on carrying the flower of his army into Italy, he should leave his dominions a prey to his enemies.'

The condition of two years seems to emphasize the temporary nature of the alliance, and the condition that 'Ptolemy' protect Epirus better accords with the geographical position of Macedon (although I acknowledge that the Ptolemies did sometimes intervene in Greece using their fleet).

I also question whether Rome would have been so forgiving of the Ptolemies and become so friendly with them if they suspected that Ptolemy II had been behind Pyrrhus. Rome, especially mid-Republican Rome, rarely gave off a forgiving vibe.

Moreover, accepting this hypothesis means ignoring the narrative as it has come down to us in quite a big way. The ancient sources do not ever suggest that Pyrrhus was a puppet of the Ptolemies, except early on in the context of his re-taking the throne, and they make clear that Pyrrhus intervened in Italy because he was invited by Tarentum (who had earlier assisted him against Corcyra: Pausanius 1.12.1), and that after the Battle of Ascalum Sicilian delegations arrived to persuade Pyrrhus to intervene against the Carthaginians. This makes Pyrrhus the passive, albeit opportunistic, player in these interactions. Maybe he was taking opportunities as they came on behalf of Ptolemy, but no source states this.

So, overall, I can see how it's possible, but as I see it there are several key hurdles that the hypothesis must overcome.
 
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Sep 2019
68
Vergina
Thank you so much for the in depth reply! Some additionally information I wish to add.

I came across this article (starts pg 93 and conclusions on pg 102) by Geoff W. Adams that covers Pyrrhus-Ptolemy relationship. Looks like Adams rejects Nenci's overall picture but agrees with Hammond regarding the source of the troops. He thinks the two rulers maintained a friendship of sorts, that Ptolemy initially backed Pyrrhus but pulled out due to Carthage. The role of Carthage in all this is interesting as well their relations with Egypt look to have been cordial and I don't think Ptolemy wanted to mess that up.

You make a number of great points regarding Keraunos options. Looking at it from Pyrrhus point of view, Hammond questions if Pyrrhus could have trusted Keraunos with the role of protector seeing how ruthless he was. He speculates that Keraunos could have easily invaded in Pyrrhus absence and only Ptolemy II could have provided the protection Pyrrhus needed.

Regarding the missing troops. I have seen mention of a storm hitting Pyrrhus fleet not sure if this could help explain it. Still looking for the primary source, the below author seems to think it destroyed much of Pyrrhus initial invasion force but he has no footnote!

Another good point about Rome.
 
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Oct 2018
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No worries. I'll have a look over the links. And yeah, Hammond makes a fair point about Keraunos as a possible threat. Pyrrhus did lose troops during the crossing. Plutarch is describing the forces that embarked from Epirus, prior to the storm hitting, but I agree that Plutarch or his source might be confused because of the casualties suffered in the storm.
 
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MAGolding

Ad Honorem
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No worries. I'll have a look over the links. And yeah, Hammond makes a fair point about Keraunos as a possible threat. Pyrrhus did lose troops during the crossing. Plutarch is describing the forces that embarked from Epirus, prior to the storm hitting, but I agree that Plutarch or his source might be confused because of the casualties suffered in the storm.
And possibly Pyrrhus might have also left a large number of infantry, cavalry, and elephants at home to garrison Epirus and discourage neighbors from invading. Pyrrhus wouldn't want to lose his home kingdom of Epirus.
 
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Nov 2011
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The Bluff
Two difficulties arise in the Keraunos scenario: he was in no real position to lend troops; just what information do we have about his supposed daughter? The first has been discussed but I'm of the view that Keraunos, only recently installed as king, was both in no real position to be hiving off precious Macedonian infantry nor readily inclined to do so. Pyrrhos had essentially abdicated his claims to the Macedonian throne (for what such was worth in Diadoch terms). Although recently defeated at sea, the other real player, Gonatus, was rudely alive and well with his father's remnants and money. He, on the other hand, had much to gain from seeing his father's ex brother in law exit stage west. On Ptolemy II, the issue of troops is not pressing but militating against his involvement would be what is known as the "Carian War" or first Syrian War. The date this war commenced is clouded but it was most likely 280. It concluded in 279. By this time Keraunos had been in diplomatic contact with Ptolemy II having already recognised him as King of Egypt and relinquished any rights to that throne (Just. 17.2.9). Still, Ptolemy II Philadelphos would appear to have more to gain with Pyrrhos off in the west.

Our sources tell us little of Keraunos' marital adventures and the only wife attested is that most ambitious of Macedonian women: Arsinoe. This to secure the Macedonian throne. In marrying Arsinoe Keraunos inherited her three children (inlculding young Ptolemy of Telmessos, who warned his mother of the danger and fled to Illyria), and promptly murdered the remaining two (Just. 24.3-4). While Justin claims that Keraunos defeated Gonatus and "contracted an affinity with Pyrrhus by giving him his daughter in marriage" (24.1.8), this is the only notice of a daughter we have and the likelihood of confusion is ever present. Philadephos strikes me as more likely to have a brood from which to offer a diplomatic bride.

I have to say I can find little support for Philadelphos' purported imperial ambitions in the west. The sphere of Ptolemaic foreign policy focus was always Greece and the Aegean. The Lagid military interest was always most intensely aimed at the Seleukids: Koile-Syria, the Anatolian littoral and Thrace. To this end the islands of the eastern Aegean were paramount and hence the Lagid interest in Cyprus, for example. Commercial motivations are another matter. The Prolemies traded with the Carthaginians and trade was Egypt's river of silver. A relationship of philia (freindship) existed between Pyyrhos and Ptolemy. Offering Pyrrhos troops to hold Epiros while he was away in Italy was an easy enough guesture. A strengthened Pyrrhos with resources in the west would be of benefit to Egypt.

This relationship changed irrevocably once Pyyrhos sailed to Sicily and engaged the Carthaginians. Ptolemy would not be impressed with his erstwhile brother in law upsetting relations with a trading partner. In the aftermath of of Pyrrhos retreat from Italy, Rome approached Ptolemy with the offer of societas or alliance (Livy, Per. 14). Given the pollution of the source tradition by patriotic Roman sources, it is often forgotten just how much of a close run thing the "Pyrrhic War" was for the Romans. The shock at the loss at Heracleia and Pyrrhus' advance towards Rome bleeds from the sources. A firm relationship with Pyrrhos' benefactor and philos, Philadelphos, would mitigate against any return by the Epirote. On this see Westall: Rome and Ptolemaic Egypt: Initial Contacts, in Aegyptiaca et Coptica, Studi in onore di Sergio Pernigotti, eds. P Buzi, D Picchi, M Zecchi, BAR International, 2011.

I have a soft copies of both the book and paper mentioned by Arhidaeus. On which, Adams rejects Nenci's thesis.
 
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While Justin claims that Keraunos defeated Gonatus and "contracted an affinity with Pyrrhus by giving him his daughter in marriage" (24.1.8)
Damn. I overlooked this passage in my response.
Pyrrhos had essentially abdicated his claims to the Macedonian throne (for what such was worth in Diadoch terms).
I agree that the sources don't indicate that he was still calling himself the king of Macedon after Lysimachus kicked him out, but more generally what are your thoughts on the threat (from Keraunos' perspective) of another intervention from Pyrrhus, considering his recent history of doing so, and the fact that he was kicked out of Macedon only four years earlier?
A relationship of philia (freindship) existed between Pyyrhos and Ptolemy.
Maybe I need to read Westall, but what is the evidence for this friendship? I'm only aware of Pyrrhus' relationship with Ptolemy I from 301 to 297. In my post I questioned how relevant this still would have been by 281, but this is your period so I'd like to hear your thoughts.
 
Nov 2011
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The Bluff
I agree that the sources don't indicate that he was still calling himself the king of Macedon after Lysimachus kicked him out, but more generally what are your thoughts on the threat (from Keraunos' perspective) of another intervention from Pyrrhus, considering his recent history of doing so, and the fact that he was kicked out of Macedon only four years earlier?
Key to wining Macedonia was carrying the Macedones with you. Lysimachos had proved this in his confrontation with with Pyrrhos. Pyrrhos had been conclusively booted from Macedon and was harbouring resources in Epirus. Keraunos, on the other hand, had been proclaimed king by the army assembly and was reasonably secure in that aside from other apsirants: the sons of Arsinoe and Gonatus. Regal aspirants in Macedon have an alarming habit of disappearing and so it proved with Arsinoe's two children who stayed with her. Keraunos likely felt he'd little problem with Pyrrhos and whilehe might have inherited Lysimachos' troops, he will not have taken those of Seleukos who Antiochos I will have taken. Gifting Pyrrhos troops and elephants with Gonatus still holed up with his Peloponnesian allies likely wasn't wise - unless those troops would be used against Gonatus on his behalf.

Maybe I need to read Westall, but what is the evidence for this friendship? I'm only aware of Pyrrhus' relationship with Ptolemy I from 301 to 297. In my post I questioned how relevant this still would have been by 281, but this is your period so I'd like to hear your thoughts.
The argument is persuasively made by Adams in Ptolemy II Philadelphus and His World. One needs to read Gruen's chapter on Roman diplomatic instruments (The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome) with respect to φιλίᾳ. in brief, the diplomatic relationship of φιλίᾳ is an ad hoc, loose arrangement between rulers/states. It imposed no restraints nor constrained states to aid another thus providing the perfect loose "alliance" where rulers worked together when it suited. This is expressly attested between Soter and Pyrrhos and as Adams argues, there is no reason it was not continued with Philadelphos, Pyrros' brother in law. Pyrrhos was quite useful for Ptolemy II in Greece just as he had been for Soter.